The James Webb Telescope: Delayed Again

A few weeks ago it was announced that NASA’s James Webb space telescope would see its launch delayed again. The successor to the Hubble telescope was originally supposed to launch several years ago, but now it won’t fly until at least 2021. Thankfully xkcd covered this slipping launch date.

Sad trombone
Sad trombone

Credit for the piece goes to Randall Munroe.

Southwest 1380

On Tuesday, Southwest Flight 1380 made an emergency landing here in Philadelphia after the Boeing 737-700’s port engine exploded. One passenger died, reportedly after being partially sucked out of the aircraft after the explosion broke a window. But the pilot managed to land the aircraft with only one engine and without any further deaths.

I wanted to take a look at some of the eventual graphics that would come out to visually explain the story. And as of Thursday, I have seen two: one from the Guardian and another from the New York Times.

The Guardian’s piece is the simpler of the two, but captures the key data. It locates the engine and the location of the window blown out by debris from the engine.

The Guardian's graphic
The Guardian’s graphic

The New York Times’ piece is a bit more complex (and accompanied elsewhere in the article by a route map). It shows the seat of the dead passenger and the approximate locations of other passengers who provided quotes detailing their experiences.

The Times' graphic
The Times’ graphic

So the first thing that struck me was the complexity of the graphic. The Times opted for a three-dimension model whereas the Guardian went with a flat, two-dimensional schematic of the aircraft. Notice, though, that the seating layout is different.

Four rows ahead of the circled window location are two seats, likely an exit row, in the Guardian’s graphic where in the Times’ piece they have a full three-seat configuration. If you check seating charts—seatguru.com was the first site that came up in the Google for me—you can see that neither configuration actually matches what the seating chart says should be the layout for a 737-700. Instead it, the Guardian’s more closely resembles the 737-800 model.

The 737-700 layout from SeatGuru.com
The 737-700 layout from SeatGuru.com
The 737-800 layout from SeatGuru.com
The 737-800 layout from SeatGuru.com

Nerding out on aircraft, I know. But, it is an interesting example of looking at the details in the piece. The Guardian’s piece is far closer to the layout, as least as provided by SeatGuru, and the New York Times’ is more representative of a generic narrow-body aircraft.

Personally, I prefer the Guardian in this case because of its improved accuracy at that level of detail. Though, the New York Times does offer some nice context with the passenger quotes. Unfortunately, the three-dimensional model ultimately provides just a flavour of the story, compared to the drier, but more accurate, schematic depiction of the Guardian.

Credit for the Guardian piece goes to the Guardian’s graphics department.

Credit for the New York Times piece goes to Anjali Singhvi, Sahil Chinoy, and Yuliya Parshina-Kottas.

Finding Yourself on the Pennsylvania Turnpike

I hope you all enjoyed your Easter holidays. Easter, wasn’t that two weekends ago you ask. Catholic/Protestant Easter, yes. This past weekend was Orthodox Easter. And since that is what my family celebrates, I was away on holiday this past weekend and only got back in town last night. But on the way out to the ancestral stomping grounds in western Pennsylvania, I realised that the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission put a little bit of thought into the signage at their more modern service plazas.

The façade of the service plaza
The façade of the service plaza

The outside is basically what you expect, the symbol of the Pennsylvania Turnpike and the name of the plaza. But if you look closer, the name of the plaza, in this case the Lawn plaza outside of Lawn, Pennsylvania, is set not just on a blue sign, but a cropping of a blue map of the commonwealth.

This is where I was, where were you?
This is where I was, where were you?

The yellow lines represent the Pennsylvania Turnpike and, with right being east, the Northeast Extension. The red star represents your current location along the turnpike system. Is this going to tell you how many miles until your next exit? No. I had to go inside and find out how many miles to Bedford, PA on a larger display map. But, this provides a wonderful low-fidelity display. After all, I roughly know where I am headed on the turnpike, and I know whence I came. So I can see that I am a little under half-way to my destination.

Credit for the piece goes to the designers of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission.

Circle This

Last week I met a friend for drinks and part of our conversation was about how on a trip to east Asia, he flew from New York and then over the North Pole. The North Pole! I then explained it was cool, but not unique. Instead aircraft typically fly between destinations via great circles. Basically, the shortest distance between two points on the Earth is a straight line, but remember the Earth is not exactly flat. Its spherical nature means that the shortest distance sometimes is what you would see as a curve on a flat map. And sometimes, those curves are shortest when plotted over the North Pole, because unlike a flat map, the east and west ends really do connect.

Lo and behold, yesterday the Economist published a piece about a new non-stop flight between London and Perth, on Australia’s southwest coast. The graphic shows the ten longest commercial flight paths. And what do you know, one of the longest is a soon-to-be flight from New York to Singapore that flies near the North Pole.

Great circles are cool.
Great circles are cool.

Of course the key to this type of diagram is the type of projection. Instead of using the Mercator-like map made popular by direction-focused maps like those of Google, here we see an orthographic presentation. It presents the Earth as if we were to see it from space, allowing us to see the fullness of the flight paths. Tellingly, those that appear to cross the middle of the map are shown as straight lines (Atlanta to Johannesburg), but those nearer the edges show the curvature of the great circles (Houston to Sydney).

Credit for the piece goes to the Economist graphics department.

Data Displays

This past weekend I saw the film Darkest Hour with one of my mates. The film focuses on Winston Churchill at the very beginning of his term as prime minister. Coincidentally I was walking through some of the very rooms and corridors depicted in the film—and rather accurately I should say—just one week prior.

One of the things in the real place that caught my eye in particular was the Map Room Annex. Most people know about the Map Room proper, from which the British Empire’s war effort was coordinated, but the annex contained data on wartime casualties, material production, &c. Consequently the walls were lined with displays of that data. But this was also the early 1940s and so none of it was computerised. Instead, we had handmade charts.

Alas, the space is quite narrow and the museum was quite crowded. So I only managed a snapshot or two, but I think this one does some justice to the hardworking folks producing charts about the war.

They were not made to be mobile-friendly or responsive…
They were not made to be mobile-friendly or responsive…

Credit for the piece goes to some junior officer/staffer back in the day.

Airport Codes

I managed to find myself in a handful of airports over the last few weeks. Consequently I brushed up on my airport codes, the three-letter abbreviations you often find on boarding passes and data displays. Well, if only I had seen this particular reference from xkcd.

Oh PHL…
Oh PHL…

Credit for the piece goes to Randall Munroe.

The Sinking of the Vasa

In 1628, Sweden launched one of its largest and most powerful warships not just in Sweden, but in all of Europe. She was to participate in the wars with Poland and Lithuania as Sweden sought to expand her growing empire. After two years of construction in Stockholm’s naval yard she set sail into a calm day with a light breeze.

After a strong gust pushed her hard to port, she righted herself and continued to set sail to a fortress to load 300 troops for the war. But only 20 minutes into her maiden voyage, a second gust of wind pushed her again hard to port so much so that water began to flood in via her open lower gunports. As the continued to rush in, she never righted herself and sank, not to be recovered for 300 years.

The recovery itself is a great story, but the question was why did she sink? This model in the large Vasa museum, built to host the recovered and preserved ship, shows just how dangerously she was designed. Take careful note of the faint blue waves signifying the waterline of the ship and how close they are to the lower gunports.

Note the waterline on the lower crossbeam of the barrel to which the model is connected
Note the waterline on the lower crossbeam of the barrel to which the model is connected

The short takeaway is that the ship was top-heavy and she needed to be both wider and deeper to support her displacement. I like the model here, but my one complaint with it is the waterline. Even when I was standing in front of it, I did not notice the waves at first. A little bit more emphasis or paint, perhaps to show the water beneath the ship, would really help to convey just how little of the ship was below the waterline.

Credit for the piece goes to the Vasa Museum design staff.

Building New Railways in America

I wasn’t expecting this piece to fall into the queue for today, but you all know me as a sucker for trains. So today we have this nice set of small multiples from the Guardian. It looks at…I guess we could call it train deserts. They’re like food deserts, except we’re talking about trains.

Some of the US train deserts
Some of the US train deserts

What strikes me is that in a perfect world at least three of these could be on one direct line. You can almost draw a straight line from Columbus, Ohio to Nashville, Tennessee and hit Louisville, Kentucky. Obviously things like property get in the way, but it is something to note.

Credit for the piece goes to Jan Diehm.

Septa’s Train and Trolley Service

Well, everyone, today you get two posts. The first and earlier (and planned) post is about polling in Pennsylvania. Relevant to those of you following the US election. But today’s post is about what trains are running in the city of Philadelphia.

If you haven’t heard, the city’s mass transit agency, SEPTA, and its primary union for workers within the city cannot come to an agreement on a contract. So…strike. And for those of you reading this from outside the Philly area, rest assured it’s just chaos right now. To put it into a wee bit of perspective, we have this graphic—actually an interactive map—of train routes in the city. And by train, Philadelphia has your standard suburban commuter heavy rail and subway lines and light rail lines, but we also make use of a number of trolley lines.

What's running and not
What’s running and not

What the map does not show are the city’s various bus routes, all of which that run within the city are suspended. There are bus routes and rail lines outside the city, most notably the commuter rail or the blue lines in the map, operated by a different union that is not on strike.

Credit for the piece goes to the Philly.com graphics department.

China’s Straddling Bus

Apologies for the lack of posts the last two days. I visited Wisconsin to trace some of the courthouse records of the Spellacys. And while I will try to return to them later next week, today we go to China.

During my recent holidays, the media made much ado about a new straddling bus in China. Except that it’s not that new. And now it might not be real or at least really viable. I recalled this graphic from 2012 via the Guardian and decided it would be relevant to try and explain how the bus should work.

How the straddling bus works
How the straddling bus works

Credit for the piece goes to Graphic News.